7 Tips for Improving Your Next Webinar

Having worked for a professional hospital CIO association for over six years, I’ve moderated and attended my fair share of health IT vendor webinars.  I’ve seen the good, the bad, and the ugly. Webinars should not be taken lightly, and should ultimately provide educational insight to attendees and your business. A webinar can help establish you as an industry expert, attract new customers, and add value to your brand.

Here are seven tips to help boost your next webinar and key mistakes to avoid.

1. Don’t be a Car Salesman

Nothing will kill a presentation faster than an overly aggressive, unsolicited sales pitch. Leave that to your sales team. If you want to be truly compelling and solidify your company as a problem solver, focus on the key issues that impact your audience and share best practices for overcoming them.  Rather than sell every bell and whistle of your product, draw upon examples of how your business is allowing existing clients to reach their goals. Focus on lessons learned.

2. Don’t Pull a Bait and Switch

Your webinar title and abstract say you are going to discuss how to build and maintain an effective population health strategy, yet you spend 60 minutes doing a product demo.

3. Be Polished and Prepared.

The best presenters are experts in their field, have a strong voice, and are experienced.  It’s always good to have a presentation outline in hand with concise bullet points for each slide. Don’t write a script out word for word. Not only will you sound like you’re reading it, you’ll end up relying on it – and if you lose your place, you’ll become flustered.  Plus, it’s a distraction from the computer screen should any technical issues arise (i.e. you are on the wrong slide, a question is asked).

4. Don’t Save Questions for the End

Don’t save the Q&A until the end of your presentation. Strike while the iron is hot and take periodic breaks throughout the webcast for questions. This makes the presentation more interactive and gives you a breather from being just a talking head. Also, not every attendee can stay the full duration and will appreciate the opportunity.  Additionally, it helps if you have a team member dedicated to monitoring questions or comments that come in from the audience. This is an effective tactic to ensure questions are addressed – or even skipped over. Nothing worse than reading a question a loud and it’s one you can’t answer or completely irrelevant/inappropriate.

5. Survey Your Audience

Nearly ever webinar platform has a poll feature. Take advantage of your audience as your own personal focus group. They have already proven interest by registering and showing up, so leverage their time and insight to help your business. Plus it makes the webinar that much more engaging if the audience feels involved, and they will be interested in the feedback of their peers.  Just be sure to give attendees sufficient time to weigh-in. Strong questions ought to lead into the next presentation topic and help dictate the amount of time you should spend on that issue.

6. Don’t Bedazzle Your Slide Deck

Slides should be visually appealing but keep the animations at bay.  They rarely ever work on cue, and slow your presentation way down.  Also, don’t use hyperlinks in your slide deck. Any sites you’d like the audience to visit should be posted in the chat window. Keep your slide deck font simple. Avoid elaborate fonts that almost never translate to webinar platforms. Arial is an easy to read, universal font. Try to stick with one color palette and select data and images that reflect your key points.

7. You Nailed It, Now Continue the Engagement

When the webinar has ended, continue the engagement by sending attendees a pdf of the slide deck and an archive link to the recording. Be sure to include the speakers’ contact information and request attendee feedback via a brief survey. Entice your participants with a special offer or prize drawing.

With the above in mind, here are a few other tips to ensure your next webinar is a winner:

  • Be cognizant of time zones and holidays when selecting a date and time for your webinar.
  • Send an attendee reminder the day of and the day before.
  • Log in early. Show up at least 15-20 minutes to ensure the audio and technology is working, Test advancing your slides as well.
Writing Your Manifesto

CEOs: It’s Time to Start Writing Your 2017 Manifesto

For what seems ages, you’ve mulled over an issue that you’re now convinced deserves a wider platform for passionate debate. Perhaps it’s an alarm to sound that no one in your industry is articulately ringing…or a bold challenge to wake up a complacent profession. Whatever the intent of your message, if you’re a credible messenger, it’s time to start writing your manifesto now for a January 2017 release. Likely what you have to say is too important not to get started ASAP on one of two strategies (more on both coming up) until you have something sweepingly profound to share with the world, at the start of the new year—a highly symbolic, and thus, effective time to share your message.

What all good manifestos have in common

Stylistically, how you craft your message is up to you. Take a look at these three notable manifestos, each very different, from word count to the writer’s level of fame. Yet all are an industry clarion call from a credible industry insider—the recipe for a message that gets passionately discussed and debated.

  • Intel CEO Andy Grove’s 2010 missive “How America Can Create Jobs” that warned about the naive fixes being advocated to solve America’s trade-related jobs crisis.
  • Paypal founder Peter Thiel’s 2011 essay “What Happened to the Future?” which issued Thiel’s now-classic lament: “We were promised flying cars. Instead, we got 140 characters.”
  • Anil Dash’s “Toward Humane Tech”…a penetrating second-guess about Silicon Valley’s preoccupation with disruptive technologies.

Here’s a second important ingredient for a message that gets noticed: the element of surprise, either in content or the messenger. Grove’s manifesto definitely caught a lot of people off guard who couldn’t fathom why a capitalist was warning about unfettered global capitalism. This shock generated the necessary attention on the point he really wanted debated: that massive job creation doesn’t happen during the invention phase of a product (directly contradicting an oft-repeated trope that the best economic prescription is to invest in technology innovation), but rather, the scaling out phase in which the now-invented product is ready for mass manufacturing. The latter, of course, has been taking place outside of America for some time now.

Dash’s message to Silicon Valley also shot a dart through some prevalent platitudes. An excerpt: “We could start to respect legal processes and the need for thoughtful engagement with policy makers but still be cavalier about the privacy and security of our users’ data. We could continue to invest in design and user experience but remain thoughtless about the emotional and psychological impacts of the experiences we create. We could continue to bemoan the shortcomings of legacy industries while exacerbating issues like income inequality or social inequity.”

Honest question:  are you prepared to similarly hold up to examination—and directly contradict—some commonly held gospels in your own industry? If so, read on to learn how to get started.

Two writing approaches to a manifesto that mesmerizes

There are a couple of paths you can take to execute this important project, both aimed at getting a compelling and effectively structured message out by early next year. One is to conceptualize and outline the entire piece now and then begin the research and writing work on it. Or you can take a more incremental approach by writing a series of thought leadership articles that touch on various aspects of the manifesto you eventually want to write, and eventually pull them all together into a single piece.

The primary benefits of the second strategy are 1) you have multiple pieces you can distribute earlier than next year and 2) you can test the waters of the over-riding message of your eventual manifesto—that is, assess the reception and feedback you receive from each point raised in your various thought leadership articles. Both important merits, but take care that you don’t end up writing your longer message based solely on which thought leadership articles garner the most attention. The end goal is a truly authentic and substantive piece. Not “click bait” with a short shelf life.

On that note, I’ll now deliver the single self-promotional message I have to deliver on this topic: unless you can (and have the time) to write any of the above very well, team up with a professional writer and a media consultant on this project. Benefits abound, from formulating your message more clearly, to delivering it with maximum impact.

Once written, what do you do with it?

Actually, a true clarion call should be a fairly evergreen piece. Initially you would want to secure coverage in one or more publications, get it out on social media, and so on. Obviously the higher your profile, the more likely Bloomberg, Computer World, Forbes, et al is going to feature your message on their home pages. But if you’ve got a killer message and a credible background, you’re going to get good coverage, regardless of how famous you are. (For example, I’d actually never heard of Dash until I read his essay on LinkedIn. I’ll certainly be following him now.)

Your essay can also follow you pretty much wherever you go, including your company website, as a hyperlink in your online bio and resume, and as part of the pitch materials given to reporters in advance of your various media interviews. It can even form the basis of a speech or presentation you become well known for.

Piqued to learn more about getting your manifesto off the ground? Get in touch with me at sjanard@acmarketingpr.com. I’m interested in hearing your proposed message…and if you’re a credible industry insider, chances are, so is your target audience.


Creating a Marketing Newsletter

So, You Got Stuck Creating a Marketing Newsletter

It’s happened to me. It’s happened to my friends. Sooner or later it happens to just about everyone in marketing communications. Someone (usually someone who doesn’t have to execute it) decides, “Hey, let’s create a marketing newsletter!” and the next thing you know it’s your job to pull it together out of cotton candy and unicorns.

In the era of Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram and a million other social media applications, an email newsletter may seem quaint. “Someone needs to update their marketing playbook,” you think. But the reality is email newsletter are still highly effective. Like 95% effective – if they are done right.

That’s the key, isn’t it? Because newsletters can be time-consuming, especially if content is tough to come by, they are generally handed off to the newbie, or the least experienced member of the team, or the person who just doesn’t know how to say no.

It doesn’t have to be as heinous of a chore as it may seem. In fact, it can be rather fun if you approach it the right way. Here are a few suggestions for not only taking the pain out of producing a newsletter but creating a finished product you’ll be proud to send to your customers and prospects.

Keep it simple

One of the most common newsletter mistakes is thinking you’re publishing the New York Times Sunday edition, i.e., stuffing it chock full of too many articles. Keep in mind who your readers are and how they’re consuming the content.

These days, many are opening the newsletter on their smartphones. With roughly 4-7 inches of screen space, too many stories = too little readership. Offering two or three in-depth articles supplemented by shorter, easily consumable content (see the next section) will be easier on the eyes and will keep readers from becoming easily overwhelmed.

Keeping it simple solves another dilemma every marketer has experienced with a newsletter at one time or another: the first issue comes out on time to great huzzahs. The second issue comes out a couple of weeks late, and the third issue never sees the light of day.

Keeping the number of stories lower helps ensure there’s plenty of fodder for the next issue. Besides, it’s a lot easier to herd three cats, er, subject matter experts, at a time than six or eight. Especially if you’re “managing up.”

Mix in “snackable” content

Yes, you have some great thought leadership to share, and it can only be delivered in a longer article. After all, you want your audience to be informed.

Sometimes, though, people think they don’t have time to read a longer article. If you include fun, entertaining and/or informative content that can be consumed at a glance (like grabbing a handful of M&Ms you can chew and swallow quickly so no one knows you’re cheating on the diet) your readers will be more likely to open the newsletter to give those pieces a look.

While they’re there, they may decide they might have enough time to read one of the more in-depth pieces. Why not? The newsletter is already open anyway.

Fun facts, trivia or statistics related to your industry (even better your area of it) are always welcome. For example, if your business involves blood transfusions, you could share that the first recorded successful blood transfusion was in 1665. Or that nearly 21 million blood components are transfused each year in the U.S. Anything that will make your audience stop for a second and say “Hmmm.”

Quotes from famous people are another great source of snackable content. Even an infographic can work, as long as you keep it simple. Give readers something they can view quickly (and find interesting) and you’ll make opening your newsletter habit-forming.

Include graphics

Nothing says uninviting (or “hard to read”) like wall-to-wall type. Look for ways to include graphics as part of your stories.

Maybe it’s a photo of the author. Maybe it’s a relevant illustration or photo. Maybe it’s a cartoon if you have someone on staff who likes to draw. Find a way to include some graphics and you’ll improve the look. Just be sure they don’t also slow down how quickly the newsletter loads.

Focus on them, not you

Let’s face it – we live in a very “me”-oriented society. The old acronym WIIFM – what’s in it for me? – applies now more than ever. So if your newsletter is all about your product, your services and your company, it’s going to be of very little interest to anyone outside the company.

Think about what happens at a party or other gathering where people cobble together posters filled with pictures of the guest of honor. The first thing visitors do when they look at the photos is check to see if they are in them. (Ok, maybe it’s just me who does that.)

Keep the “Inside Baseball” stuff to a minimum – unless this is an internal company newsletter. Offer up information that will help readers do their jobs better, or improve their relationships with a boss or co-workers, or enjoy their leisure time more. Anything that offers a promise of making the reader smarter or happier or better-prepared in some aspect of their lives.

That doesn’t mean you can’t include something about your company and its products or services now and then, especially if you have a truly exciting announcement. But be careful, because the more readers perceive the newsletter is about you instead of them, the less motivated they will be to read it. Or even open it.

Keep the language friendly – but genuine

There is always a temptation, especially among those who are new to writing, to try to show off their college or post-graduate educations by creating deadly serious tomes that read like textbooks. Remember how much fun textbooks were to read?

If you want to get your audience engaged with your newsletter on a regular basis, write it more like a friend sharing great information with another friend. As a general rule, newsletter articles should be conversational, much like a blog post. In fact, this blog post by my colleague Michelle Noteboom offers some great tips that apply to newsletter articles as much as they do blogs. Not to mention an example of writing style.

At the same time, you also want to be genuine in your writing. If you’re ghost writing for a company executive who is known to be rather dry or formal in their day-to-day life, suddenly adopting a breezy attitude in a newsletter article will immediately scream FALSE and hurt the credibility of the article and the newsletter.

For more down-to-earth types, however, you can inject some fun. Find out what their hobbies and interests are and tie them in if you can. Keep sentences and paragraphs short – again a must for those reading on smartphones. The easier the story is to read and comprehend, the more likely it is to make a lasting impression.

Not so bad

See? Being in charge of the newsletter isn’t so bad. And the more you do it, the easier it will get. Before you know it you’ll be the one doling out advice – and shaking your head at every bad newsletter you get.

Have you ever been in charge of a newsletter? What has your experience been? Is there anything you would change about what I suggested? Or anything you would change in your approach for the next time?